AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE: AU) has brought its 70%-held Tropicana gold mine in Western Australia online — ahead of schedule and within budget.
Located 300 km northeast of Kalgoorlie on the border of the Great Victoria Desert, Tropicana had been expected to pour gold in the fourth quarter of this year.
But with the earlier start, operator AngloGold intends to spend the next three months ramping up the processing plant at Tropicana to nameplate capacity of 5.5 million tonnes per year.
Perth-based Independence Group (ASX: IGO) holds the remaining 30%.
The partners are targeting production of 120,000 to 160,000 oz. gold from Tropicana this year. During its first three years, Tropicana would produce 470,000 to 490,000 oz. a year at cash costs of A$590 to A$630 (US$550 to US$593) per oz., on a 100% basis. Over its more than 10-year mine life, annual production would average slightly lower at 330,000 to 350,000 oz., at cash costs of A$710 to A$730 per oz.
The initial cost to get Tropicana into production remains between A$820 million and A$845 million.
Africa-focused AngloGold describes Tropicana as the “most significant Australian gold discovery of the past decade.” AngloGold unearthed the Tropicana deposit in 2005 after following up on a gold-in-soil anomaly that Independence had found in regional data from as early as the 1990s. The partners identified the Havana and Boston Shaker deposits in 2006 and 2009. The three deposits form a 5 km long, northeast-trending mineralized corridor spanning 1.2 km wide.
AngloGold and Independence Group now hold 105 sq. km of claims in what they call a “new gold province.”
The Tropicana mine project was approved in November 2010. Construction of the processing plant started a year later after a 220 km road from Pinjin to the mine site was built. Still, given its remote location, Tropicana is a fly-in, fly-out operation.
The partners initiated open-pit mining at the Havana starter pit last July, and plan to mine the Tropicana, Havana and Boston Shaker deposits from surface. The two are also evaluating the trade-off between open-pit and underground mining the Havana Deeps deposit, with a prefeasibility study due later this year.
Tropicana is AngloGold’s second gold mine in Australia, joining the Sunrise Dam mine in the northern goldfields of Western Australia. Tropicana has reserves of 57.1 million tonnes grading 2.12 grams per tonne for 3.9 million oz. gold.
On Sept. 25, a day before announcing Tropicana’s first production, AngloGold announced that the Kibali gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a joint venture with Randgold Resources (NASDAQ: GOLD; LSE: RRS) — has poured its first gold.
AngloGold and Randgold each own a 45% stake in the venture, with Sokimo, a state-owned firm, holding the remaining 10%. The large gold mine is being developed in two phases. It will initially run as an open-pit operation before adding ounces from underground mining. First access to the underground ore is slated for 2015.
Given the earlier start-up, mine operator Randgold says Kibali would produce more than the expected 30,000 oz. this year and is on track to deliver 550,000 oz. in 2014.
So far, AngloGold and Randgold have invested US$1.7 billion into the mine, which has reserves of 10.92 million oz. from 82.9 million tonnes grading 4.10 grams gold. The mine would churn out 600,000 oz. gold a year over its first 12 years.
AngloGold says Tropicana and Kibali could deliver a combined attributable annual production of up to 600,000 oz. a year starting in 2014.
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